Jambo, habari? Fine, thank you.

One of the first things I noticed as I passed through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and onto the streets of Nairobi was the amount of English displayed everywhere. I had initially attributed this to being in an airport (which is by definition a major tourist attraction), but this hypothesis disintegrated about twenty minutes into the ca ride, as every street sign, every advertisement, and every storefront was written in English. This was reinforced the next day as I passed through the city and had a chance to interact with Kenyans.

The majority of Kenyans in Nairobi, particularly those that one would find in the city center, speak very good English. It turns out that English is one of the government's administrative languages, and is also taught in schools. The only catch is that the English spoken is the Queen's English, a form that took a little bit of getting used to. The pronunciation they use mirrors that of Swahili (which is known as Kiswahili in Swahili), in which the emphasis falls on the second to last syllable of a word. This combination of altered vocabulary and pronunciation made it so that I could understand everything that was said to me, but had to be very careful how to say things in order to be understood.

After the first couple of days, I managed to bring my enunciation to the proper level in order to be sure that I was understandable. It was pointed out a couple of weeks later when Tish came to visit just how absurd I sounded when I spoke, since every single syllable was emphasized and I avoided all contractions and idioms. It was quite effective however.

While being able to speak in English made living in Nairobi much much easier than if I had to struggle through in Swahili, it did have a couple of downsides. The first was that I really didn't have a chance to learn much Swahili, as everyone saw that I was a muzungu (Swahili: white person) and spoke to me in English just about exclusively. Thus, I coudln't even practice Swahili with the locals, as they would have nothing of it. It was quite common for me to initiate a conversation with the standard Swahili greeting of "Jambo, habari" ("hello, what's the news?"), and have "Fine, thank you" given as a response. At that point the conversation continued, inevitably, in English.

Another downside is the elimination of the opportunity to talk to a fellow muzungu in English without others knowing what you are saying. While the need for this does not occur often, it is quite useful when bargaining in order to coordinate your offers and make sure you both get what you are looking for. Its also nice in sketchy situations to converse what's going on with your companion without the others getting a hint of how out of place you feel or what you plan to do next.

Tanzania was quite different, as English is not taught there to the extent that it is in Kenya. There I was quite dependent on Tish and Mr. Daniel to get around, since I couldn't get by with the Swahili that I know. Tish became quite good in basic interactions, though there were some comical scenarios.

One night Tish and I went for some grilled chicken at a local restaurant. It was not the place where tourists would go, so we were definitely the only two muzungus there The waitress spoke no English, but Tish was able to order the chicken without too much of a problem. Until we got to trying to convey how much chicken we wanted. We wanted half of a chicken, but didn't know how to say "half" in Swahili. We had to resort to representing a chicken with our hands, and "breaking" the chicken apart by spreading our closed fists and throwing one of the fists away. Needless to say this failed spectacularly, but was amusing nonetheless.